For our recipe club this month, the theme is “story”, which means that all recipes needed to have some sort of associated story. After struggling to come up with something, my friend Josie suggested the story of the Sugar-plum Fairy (who rules the Kingdom of Sweets in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker), which sounded great because I’d never come across a sugar-plum before.
It turns out that the “plum” in sugar-plum is the same as the “plum” in plum pudding, i.e. not a plum at all. While there appear to be alternative views on the Internet regarding what the historical sugar-plum consisted of, the common themes appear to be the use of dried fruit, the shape of a ball, and being covered in sugar.
So, despite basing my recipe here on a sugar-plums recipe that is referenced from Wikipedia (can you get more credible than that?) by Alton Brown. I have diverted somewhat from tradition by coating two thirds of the balls in chocolate rather than sugar. Not only does it taste great, but gives a nice layered effect.
1/4 teaspoon (1.25mL) anise seeds or 1 star anise
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
180g slivered almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of salt
1/4 cup (62.5mL) icing sugar
120g dried plums (prunes)
120g dried apricots
120g dried figs
1/4 cup of honey
1 cup (250mL) raw sugar
250g dark chocolate
Toast the anise, fennel and caraway seeds, e.g. under a grill. Toast the slivered almonds as well, but don’t mix them with the spices yet.
Grind up the spices, combine with the cardamom and salt in a small mixing bowl. Sift in the icing sugar, mix well and set aside.
Place the almonds in a large mixing bowl, and crush, e.g. with the end of a rolling pin, so that they are smaller pieces.
Very finely dice the prunes, apricots and figs, and add to the almonds. Mix together with a butter knife until it looks something like high-end trail mix.
Add in the spiced sugar to the fruit and nut mix, and ensure that it is well mixed through. Then pour in the honey and stir until well combined and the mixture is forming clumps.
Roll scoops of the mix between clean hands to form small balls no more than 1 inch in diameter. I needed to clean my hands several times throughout this process, since sticky hands would prevent the balls forming nicely.
Place each ball onto a wire rack and leave uncovered until all balls are made. You need to make at least 55 balls to make a tower 5 layers high (and you’ll need 91 balls to make one with 6 layers, but you probably won’t be able to make that many with these quantities).
Take the smallest 35 balls (and maybe a few more, but ensure you leave at least 20 balls) and set them aside for coating with the chocolate.
Melt the chocolate, e.g. in the microwave by zapping for a minute then stirring, and repeating until the chocolate is just runny. Put some foil down, then roll the balls in chocolate one by one, putting onto the foil to set. If the chocolate starts going hard, melt it again and keep going.
You can pause at this point. In fact, the balls should keep for up to a week if left on the rack, or longer if kept in an airtight container.
Just before serving, put the raw sugar in a bowl, and roll each of the remaining (non chocolate covered) balls in the sugar to coat them well.
To make the tower, form a base of 5 by 5 chocolate balls, each touching its neighbours. Then place a layer of 4 by 4 sugar balls on top. Then a 3 by 3 layer of chocolate balls, then a layer of sugared balls, and a chocolate ball on the top.
This recipe makes between 65-75 balls, where an adult would probably eat about 5 balls at a sitting. Serve with good coffee.
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